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24: REDEMPTION (FOX)
(written by Howard Gordon; directed by Jon Cassar; premieres Sunday, November 23 at 8:00/7:00c)
The network's description: "The wait is finally over as the highly anticipated two-hour television event shot on location in South Africa and in Los Angeles finds JACK BAUER (Sutherland) working at a school in Africa where he is called upon to stop a ruthless warlord from drafting innocent children into his murderous militia. At home, it's inauguration day for President-elect ALLISON TAYLOR (Cherry Jones) while malevolent mastermind JONAS HODGES (Jon Voight) fans the flames of the international crisis. Setting the stage and raising the stakes for the upcoming season, Bauer faces decisions and sacrifices that will change his life forever in the heart-pounding 24: REDEMPTION airing Sunday, Nov. 23 (8:00-10:00 PM ET/PT) on FOX."
What did they leave out? Kiefer Sutherland, Cherry Jones, Colm Feore and Bob Gunton are the only credited series regulars however look for guest appearances by Powers Boothe (President Noah Daniels) and Peter MacNicol (Tom Lennox).
The plot in a nutshell: On the run for over a year, Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) has taken up residence in Sangala, Africa. There he's trying to atone for his sins (or least that's what a local UN worker tells him) by helping out at a local school run by Carl Benton (a very likable Robert Carlyle), one of Jack's old Special Forces buddies. Nevertheless, the real world starts to catch up to Jack in the form of Frank Tramell (Gil Bellows), a bureaucrat who serves him with a subpoena to appear in front of a Senate committee to answer questions about the extreme techniques he's used over the years. And while he refuses to comply with Frank's wishes ("They want me back in Washington, they can come and get me," Jack barks), turning his back on the latest international crisis won't be as easy - General Juma (Tony Todd) is about to begin a coup against the local democratically elected government and is actively recruiting local boys to his cause, whether they like it or not (a la "Blood Diamond"). Soon enough, Juma and his lieutenants turn their eyes to Carl's school - leaving Jack as their last hope. Meanwhile, back in the States - Senator Allison Taylor (Cherry Jones) is about be sworn in as President and inherit the aforementioned crisis. Unluckily for her (and Jack), outgoing President Daniels (Powers Boothe) has decided to use his closing moments of power to withdraw all military support from the region - leaving all Americans (and their sponsored locals) less than two hours to get out of the country or risk facing Juma's forces. And if that wasn't enough intrigue - a mysterious figure (Jon Voight) is helping to illegally fund Juma's coup, evidence of which shows up on the doorstep of Roger Taylor (Eric Lively), the President's son.
What works: "Redemption" is about as complete a story as "24" has told to date, one that ultimately makes for a perfect primer for the new season. It's also a story that's refreshingly free of mythology and backstory - no "previously on," no CTU, etc. Everything you need to know is right there on the screen. It's a decidedly refreshing approach as it reminds us what makes the show and its format so enjoyable as while it's been off the air for 18 months, the memories of its various albatrosses (the endless series of moles, CTU foibles, etc.) are still rather vivid. It's also nice to see more than a few "white hats" for once - Benton, Taylor, her husband Henry (Colm Feore) and son Roger are painted as nothing less than good guys, a welcome reprieve from the "who's going to be the mole" countdown that always seems to haunt each season. I'd also be remised not to mention an impressive cast of locals - most notably Siyabulela Ramba as Willie, the latest youngster to idolize Jack. Overall, "Redemption" is a surprisingly solemn and introspective event (Jack doesn't begin to creatively kill bad guys until the 40 minute mark, two words: dynamite sticks) - one that's more than welcome to this viewer.
What doesn't: At the same time, "24" has taught us all too well how to watch the show. Nothing that happens here is the least bit surprising from a plot standpoint - you don't even need to be a regular "24" viewer to know that a douchy UN worker (Sean Cameron Michael) is going to eventually sell Jack out; that when Willie runs back to get the gift Jack gave him something bad is going to happen; and that overly helpful friends of Jack Bauer have short shelf lives. That's not to say the above undercuts the entertainment value of the show, it's just that anyone hoping for an awe-inspiring reboot of the show best lower their expectations. (Oh, and I could probably have done without the obviously CGI-ed in Sprint logos on the phones Jack and company use.)
The bottom line: "Redemption" is ultimately a stripped down, more focused version of the show - an event that holds the promise of a potentially exciting season to come.